Intuition. That “gut feeling.” No matter what you call it, everyone has experienced it. But do we all know how, and when, to listen to it?
There’s probably no better way to hone one’s intuition than to become a cop.
Early on in my time as a law enforcement officer, I would get that gut feeling. And then I would look for something to back it up. Of course, that “something” wasn’t always there. I’m sure a few people got away with things because I refused to listen to that feeling (and, of course, because a gut feeling isn’t probable cause).
It takes experience and courage to pay attention to our intuition, and not to let logic push it aside.
One night on patrol, I stopped a car for not having insurance. It was late, and the girl driving said she left her driver’s license at home. She provided me with her name, address, and social security number, and the car was registered to her—or, at least, to the person she claimed to be.
I had no reason not to believe her, but something just didn’t seem right. She even sweetened the deal by showing me a tattoo of her name on her arm. My conscious mind told me she was telling the truth. She knew all the answers, and there was that tattoo.
But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that she was lying. I didn’t know why, but I had that gut feeling. I made the difficult decision to arrest her for operating a vehicle without carrying a driver’s license–a misdemeanor in North Carolina.
I searched her before transporting her to the jail, and that’s when I discovered an ID card in her pocket, complete with her picture. The problem was, the name on it was not the one she had given me. I ran the name. Not only was her driver’s license suspended, but she had several warrants for her arrest.
The name she had given was her domestic partner’s, which explains why she knew all of her information and had that tattoo.
That gut feeling is not a psychic ability, and it’s not something only special people have. We all have it.
Actually, the feeling doesn’t originate in your gut; it comes from your subconscious mind. I once took a class on body language interviewing, and the instructor explained that a “gut feeling” is really your subconscious mind taking in all the information, analyzing it, and telling you that something doesn’t add up. The information is all there, but it only exists in your subconscious mind—so your conscious mind has a hard time explaining it.
In an article in Medical Daily on the science of intuition, Samantha Olson says this:
“The key to understanding our brains is by remembering humans are animals, which are born with a certain toolbox full of strategies and social impetuses to help us survive … The intuitive system is more hardwired into the human species than commonly understood. It is the automatic, mindless thought process that doesn’t require analysis or deep thinking.”
We are all born with these survival mechanisms; we just have to understand how to listen to them.
Samantha Olson defined intuition as a collection of our past experiences and beliefs. It lives in the subconscious mind, where it can called upon to analyze a situation quickly.
It took a long time for me to start trusting my gut. It’s a strange feeling to act based on a feeling you can’t explain, a vague but powerful sense that something is not right. But I have learned that, at the very least, I should listen when it speaks and investigate the situation further.
A Painful Lesson
A month into solo patrol, I had an experience that would have turned out a lot differently if I had trusted my gut.
I was driving behind a car with an old temporary license plate, and the driver whipped into the driveway of a house that appeared to be vacant. Since it was obvious he was avoiding me, I drove up the road out of sight and waited for him to drive by.
When he passed me, I initiated a traffic stop. The guy driving was in his mid-thirties and was easily 250 pounds of muscle. He didn’t have a driver’s license, but he gave me his information and even told me his driver’s license was suspended. He was very nice, polite, and laid back.
Since I couldn’t confirm his identity, I made the decision to arrest him. I didn’t have a good feeling about it, and I considered calling for backup. But then again, the guy was really nice and so calm. He wouldn’t do anything crazy, right?
I got him out of his car and explained the situation. He begged me not to take him to jail, and I explained to him that I had no choice. He turned around, and I put one handcuff on his right wrist. I tried to snap the other onto his left wrist, but his shoulders were so wide it wouldn’t reach. I was going to have to handcuff him in front. My gut feeling went from bad to worse. But since I couldn’t explain it, I pressed ahead.
I took off the first handcuff and told him I would have to put the handcuffs on in front. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, a pounding pain on the side of my face, and this 250 pound guy was coming down for another hit. I kicked at him, and he adjusted his tactic and went for my gun. I put my hand on my gun to keep him from getting it, worried that if I drew my weapon it would end up in his hands.
I keyed my radio mic with my left hand and yelled that I needed backup, and that was apparently enough to send him running. I later found out he was a product of prison, and he had multiple assaults on police officers—to include one with a deadly weapon.
We were born with intuition, that gut feeling, for a reason. It helped keep our ancestors alive, or we wouldn’t be here. So the next time you’re on surveillance, serving papers, or tracking down a missing person, pay attention to that gut feeling. It might just keep you out of a bad situation one day.
I could never have arrested someone on a gut feeling. But it did get me to dig a little deeper. As my former training officer once said, “never stop until your curiosity is satisfied.”
About the Author:
Christopher Borba owns Emissary Investigative Services, a Roanoke, Virginia investigative agency specializing in due diligence, corporate investigations, and executive background profiles. He served as an infantry paratrooper with the U.S. Army in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He also worked as a patrol officer and a detective with the Fayetteville, NC police department.
Olson, Samantha (2015). Your Gut Feeling Is Way More Than Just A Feeling: The Science of Intuition. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/your-gut-feeling-way-more-just-feeling-science-intuition-325338